by Molly Rosen Marriner
This is our fourth installment of Last Month in Pop Language, a column where the most popular (statistically) song, book, and film of the month will have their words analyzed in hopes of drawing a conclusion about language’s current usage—and future. At the end of each monthly column, we’ll draw a conclusion: Was last month’s pop language masterly, malevolent, or merely meh?
Movie: The Incredibles 2
Gotta love Pixar: Even though The Incredibles franchise is for the PG crowd, it isn’t afraid to be cerebral and wordy. (I mean … author Sarah Vowell is an Incredibles voice actor.) While I’m not thrilled that Pixar—and movie studios in general—continue to invest in retreading franchises rather than creating more Coco-style originals, I still support The Incredibles 2‘s mission: a strong, female-led family saving the world locally and globally.
Much like I let it slide that The Incredibles 2 is a sequel, I’ll also let slide that the sentences are short and the language is unchallenging. It’s a kid movie! It’d be hard to hammer in the feel-good morality with SAT-level vocabulary.
- alliteration: “Over Dusseldorf, Doozles are dozing…”
- wordplay: Screenslaver (a character’s name)
- callback: Dash Parr: “Wait, I thought you renounced superheroes.” Violet Parr: “Well, I renounce my renouncement!”
- rhetorical question: Violet Parr: “So, are we going to talk about it?” Bob Parr: “What?” Violet Parr: “The elephant in the room.”
Song: “Psycho” by Post Malone Featuring Ty Dolla $ign
There’s really no way around it: Post Malone is terrible. (And, he didn’t even have the #1 hit at the time this article was written—while “Psycho” peaked at #1 this June, the top song for most of the month was Drake’s “Nice for What,” which we already featured in April.)
Malone is only 22 years old … but has the facial tattoos and conspiracy theories of a much older alt righter; “Psycho” is a brag track about the young bro’s staggering jewelry collection. The song’s repeated opening and titular lyric—”Damn, my AP goin’ psycho … Can’t really trust nobody with all this jewelry on”—refers to his fancy timepiece of choice, an Audemars Piguet “AP” luxury watch. Yup: the song’s about how sweet Post’s possessions are. He really is just that simple and shallow. This makes the apocalypse and weary-child imagery in the song’s popular video feel especially unearned, and even makes us long for the more complex days of … Drake. Feel free to watch for yourself below.
To find a literary device in this song was hard, to say the least. Check them out:
- euphemism: “You stuck in the friend zone”
- anecdote: “Had so many bottles gave ugly girl a sip”
- internal rhyme: “Come with the Tony Romo for clowns and all the bozos”
- juxtaposition: “Saint Laurent jeans, still in my Vans though”
Book: The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
Finally! A work of fiction is #1 for the first time since
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway
in November 2017. (And, having sold 250,000 copies in the first week, it’s the best-selling fiction since
Go Set a Watchman
Expectations for this novel, about a president getting into impeachment hot water for … accusations of dealing with terrorists, are mixed: while Clinton is an accomplished author, with 1000-page tomes like My Life under his belt, Patterson is airport-reading at best. We leave the zingers to The New Yorker‘s Anthony Lane: “William. Bill Clinton, who can write, has hooked up with James Patterson, who can’t.”
Working with a president and intellectual Rhodes Scholar doesn’t seem to give James Patterson any more subtlety than usual. The President Is Missing drains the genre for all its usual cliches: an average Joe white male protagonist, plot twists, a beautiful lady-assassin. (Huh, guess Clinton couldn’t resist.) It avoids subtlety basically.
But: It’s a novel, so it’s gotta have the standard literary devices.
- metaphor: “The sharks are circling, their nostrils twitching at the scent of blood.”
- mixed metaphor: “We have a lot of balls in the air right now, trying to monitor and defend against this threat. The other shoe could drop at any minute.”
- hyperbole: “I haven’t opened my own car door for a decade.”
- oppressive male gaze: “It’s a role she puts on like any other, a coat she puts on when necessary and sheds as soon as she’s done, but she can see it’s working: the men trying for eye contact, checking the cleavage she’s sure to reveal, allowing just enough bounce in her girls to make it memorable.”
Verdict: Middling Meh
When a month’s sole cultural redemption comes from a sequel for a children’s movie, you know it’s a low month for language. June’s words are empty—Clinton and Patterson write tired thriller tropes and descriptions, and Post uses played-out literary devices to describe his wealth and jewelry. It’s been a month without a ton of originality or sincerity, and we’re hoping for better in July. Fingers crossed that Won’t You Be My Neighbor will storm the box office? Time will tell.
Molly Rosen Marriner is a writer, editor, and basset hound aficionado who lives in Oakland, CA.